Brouhaha Over Hyperflexion Overshadowing the Progressive Medication Scale Issue

From Fran Jurga’s post, “The Quiet Americans”

For whatever reason, Americans are neither rallying to protest nor hurrying to embrace the announcement of changes in FEI medication rules two weeks ago that ended the long years of zero tolerance of medications for all horses competing in FEI-sanctioned events. It’s not like Americans not to have something to say.

This is in distinct contrast to how Americans responded emotionally and emphatically to the viral “blue tongue” dressage video that circulated on the Internet last month. It was impossible to find anyone who hadn’t seen it and didn’t have an opinion—and most of that was negative.

The relatively few opinions that are posted on American forums and chat rooms so far regarding the FEI’s medication policy change seem to be contradictory: it’s not ok to pull on the curb rein of a dressage horse in the warm-up ring, but it is ok to make a radical switch in medication policy. A micro incident with one horse excites the masses; a macro policy change affecting the highest level of sport brings a shrug, if that.

Fran hypothesizes that the subtlety and complexity of low medication levels as allowed by the new FEI rules will so confuse the American public that they will not become involved in the debate. As many Americans have not followed the international scene, they may even be unaware that there was ever a radical difference in drug policies between US competitions and those in other countries. This gap in attention and response is reflected in the responses to the Jurga Report. According to Fran, 21 readers commented on the November 21 post of the Blue Tongue incident and accompanying YouTube video, roundly condemning the rider, while the news of the medication report garnered only eight comments. Those eight comments were split in their support for for therapeutic administration of low levels of Bute vs. cynicism about the pharmacological corruption of horse sports.

While researching the concerns of the Europeans, I found out about the strict equine welfare laws in some nations and also the rather dark history of the use of medication in FEI events before the all-out ban. I think it is comparable to the debates about legalizing gambling in some states in the USA. The states that have it don’t think it is a big deal; those that don’t are horrified by the possible Pandora’s Box of evils associated with it. Both sides have valid points of view.

Fran states that what is missing from the debate about the use of medications in FEI competitions is a unified worldwide agreement of the specific ways in which medication affects the performance horse and, by extension, the reputation of equestrian sports. “Kudos to the vets on both sides who are willing to speak up. The elephant in this room is a clear definition of the responsibility for equine welfare, not a level of Bute or Banamine.”

Therapeutic levels of medication are nothing new to US competition, since USEF rules for competitions within the U.S. for most disciplines allow low levels of certain medications. That’s the American system; our veterinary advisers disagree with their European colleagues and believe that allowing medication in performance horses is in the best interest of the horse…Yet, when the big events came, the Americans always met–or valiantly tried to meet–the challenge of competing on the international stage without the same drugs they used at home. The frequent success of “clean” American horses under FEI rules often goes unmentioned and may be all the more extraordinary.

All that will change in 2010 when the world comes to the US for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. We can expect plenty of international riders to be competing in the US over the summer months leading up to the Games. They will bring not just their best horses but also their politics and their opinions with them and Americans may learn, at last, that we are part of a larger horse world where not everyone thinks the same as we do…There are 300 days to go…I hope that is time enough for some compromise or peacemaking at the highest international levels that will appease all parties and make the first WEG in the USA the wonderful celebration it was always meant to be.

Fran has provided three downloadable reference documents on the FEI’s new medication policy document on the new medication policies of the FEI. As Fran says, STAY INFORMED.

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Belgian Vet Praises New Med Policy

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